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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: March 8, 2008

SOME PEOPLE ARE so eager to revive long-dead relationships, they’re willing to pay thousands of dollars to companies that can help them get their old lovers back. About 70% of the customers of Tokyo’s Ladies Secret Service, a private detective agency, have been paying up to $6,500 a month for its agents to research and implement how to break up a new relationship so they can repair the old—usually defunct—one.

Even phony fortune tellers are being brought into play to convince clients that the original breakup was a mistake. One of the reunion experts, Satoyo Nakamura, explains: “It’s a job that requires being able to assume the role of counselor who can bring about radical changes in thinking, not just in the target but also in the client.”

IN A STORY headed Beltway Bacchanal, Congress lives high on the Contributor’s Dime, Harper’s details some of the extravagances of Washington pols who have transformed a seat in Congress “from a comfortable but relatively modest office into a sort of modern-day lordship”. Listing examples of $300 meals and $50,000 parties, the magazine concludes: “If there is any single group in America that lives high on funds donated for the purposes, it is our 535 members of Congress.”

INTERNET USERS WHO arrive at China’s Olympics might wonder what all the talk of censorship was all about. That’s because they’ll be treated very differently to the Chinese people within a sort of Potemkin Village façade of unfettered access as compared to the rest of the population writes James Fallowes. Chinese authorities monitor all cyber traffic in and out of the country, blocking access, closing down sites, and regularly sending the police to visit outspoken bloggers. Writing in the Atlantic, Fallowes says it’s possible to get around the firewall with its thousands of censors, but so much trouble most people don’t bother. “How long can the regime control what people are allowed to know, without the people caring enough to object? On current evidence, for quite a while.”

BUY AMERICAN! Is the advice we’re always being given, but as Consumer Reports points out, it’s not quite as simple as all that. They display a padlock labeled American Lock that was assembled in Mexico… the colorful banner of an American flag was made here, with the pole and bracket imported…. Pennsylvania Dutchman brand — “America’s favorite mushroom” — comes from China, which is where an Apple-designed computer was assembled… and Chicken of the Sea pink salmon, though from Alaskan waters, “took a detour to Thailand for processing and packaging before being returned to the U.S. for sale.”

TREATING A WEAPON like a fashion accessory “seems to trivialize the power it has to inflict harm,” comments Stores magazine discussing the “unsettling” news about women hosting home Taser parties at which they buy $350 weapons. The magazine reports that the Taser C2 is now available in leopard print or “red hot red” and its holster can hold music “allowing wearers to listen to a variety of songs while carrying stun guns on their hips.”

ENTREPRENEUR, A MAGAZINE devoted to helping fledgling businesses, ran a five-page feature in its March issue to eBay “one of the few ways almost anyone can become a business owner in minutes with no upfront investment.” Pointing out that there are 247 million registered users, the story included a nine-point plan for success, mostly common sense but suggesting starting with used items, developing a specialty, comparison shopping to set a price level, acquiring a regulation postage scale, growing slowly and being accurate in descriptions and reliable in delivery. “In comparison to the cost of placing a single classified ad in a newspaper, eBay is still a steal.”

IT WILL BE A DECADE before work starts on a subterranean city under the streets of Amsterdam but city councilors have agree it is the only solution for the congested streets and escalating prices. The canals will have to be drained — but only temporarily — to enable work in the clay beneath them.

ALTHOUGH THE GUARDS of Blackwater have sometimes been depicted as notorious blackguards because the innocent casualties of their work in Iraq, their subsidiary, Greystone, “has managed to stay almost entirely out of public view,” comments Mother Jones. And yet it is this “international affiliate” (as Blackstone founder Eric Prince describes it) that would seemingly be likely to be even more hazardous. Incorporated in the tax haven of Barbados, Greystone has been aggressively recruiting for mercenaries in Third-World countries, the magazine says, a practice that serves Blackstone “as a convenient firewall, shielding U.S.-based companies from direct liability for the actions of their sub-contractors.”

THE MAN WHO founded Blogger and then sold it to Google for a reported $50 million, moved on to invent Twitter which is a stupid website enabling anyone to send 140-character text to cell phones. Naturally this has been a big hit with advertisers, always eager to corral another captive audience. Now, reports Inc., the man, Evan Williams, 37, has invested millions in something initially called Odio, then Obvious. Trouble is he doesn’t know what it is or what to do with it, so he’s hired a bunch of techies to “experiment” and come up with a purpose. Such is today’s superficial internet world of immature millionaires.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Columnist Steve Forbes explains that the reason why Starbucks eliminated breakfast sandwiches was not because of their aroma but because “haughty” critics said they made the brand appear “common”…. Successive claims by Holocaust survivors for the return of artwork they claim was stolen by the Nazis, have so alarmed the world’s museums that they are increasingly seeking “declaratory judgments” from the courts so they can hang on to the disputed works…. After all those TV appearances beside the Donald, it surely can’t be long before the stunning Ivanka Trump is offered a movie role… A new, light “sport-aircraft,”” the Cirrus, is billed as “a starter plane.” It costs a mere $105,000…. Snake fans will assemble at the oddly-named Alabama City of Opp on April 5 for the Rattlesnake Rodeo ….. All sensible people told London authorities it was madness to split up the organization of the Metro (Underground) years ago and now, predictably, the taxpayers will foot the cost of $3billion worth of failures for which private companies invested merely a few million…. The silent era was comparatively a golden age for women, with female screenwriters penning half of all movies copyrighted between 1911 and 1925….. A British engineer has invented a collapsible bicycle wheel…. “The happy ending,” asserts Mary McCarthy, “is our national belief”… An obesity problem with a quarter of its 1,600 police officers has prompted the Mexican city of Aguascalienties to offer them ten bucks for every kilo they shed…. Every artist is an intellectual outlaw … German law mandates that only barley, hops, yeast, and water are allowed in the brewing of beer…. Whenever people agree with me, I always feel I must be wrong. — Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

John Wilcock is currently in Europe</center